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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 3/23/18

"Russian Roulette" Trump and Putin

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Until Robert Mueller publishes the results of his investigation into Russian intrusion in the 2016 election, David Corn and Michael Isikoff's new book, "Russian Roulette," will be the preeminent source for information about what happened; what did Russia do and why did they do it. There are four takeaways from this well-researched and disturbing book.

Russia has declared war on the United States: During the October 22, 2012, presidential debate, Mitt Romney called Russia America's "biggest geopolitical threat." At the time, many observers scoffed, but it turns out that Romney was right. Corn and Isikoff's book indicates that Russian Premier Vladimir Putin has declared cyberwar on the United States and its allies; the 2016 political campaign was the most evident manifestation of the new Kremlin offensive.

Russia cannot compete against the United States economically or militarily. Because the US has, historically, opposed many Russian political initiatives -- such as the annexation of Ukraine -- Putin has decided to retaliate by undermining our democracy: he seeks to destabilize our political system and sow discontent. In 2016 Russian operatives interfered in the U.S. political process by meddling in the voting process, selectively leaking hacked information, and spreading disinformation via social media. The Russians did this to cripple Hillary Clinton's campaign and to aid Donald Trump.

Russian Roulette makes it clear that Putin hated Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and, therefore, deliberately set out to hurt the Obama Administration, the Clinton campaign, and Democrats in general. (The Russians not only interfered in the presidential election but also in Senate and Congressional races.)

Trump idolizes Putin. Tellingly, Trump shares Putins's hatred for Obama. What jumps out from Russian Roulette is that there's abundant evidence of Russian cyberattacks and Trump has steadfastly denied this.

Donald Trump threatens our national security: Corn and Isikoff's book doesn't contain a "smoking gun;" there is no new information that proves that Trump personally colluded with Russian operatives. Nonetheless, Russian Roulette reports that before November 8, 2016, the Kremlin had been trying to "cultivate" Trump for at least a decade.

The Russian effort to enlist Trump is said to take two forms: one is to provide him with funding for his various projects; the other is to threaten him with blackmail with evidence of sexual misbehavior.

Trump has repeatedly claimed that he has no business interests in Russia. However, Russian Roulette reports that during the campaign Trump's representatives tried to arrange for a Trump tower to be constructed in Moscow. In addition, there's abundant evidence that Trump has done business with Russian oligarchs -- on projects located outside Russia. During the nineties, Trump was in deep financial trouble and there's information that Russian money bailed him out.

Russian Roulette discusses the possibility that Trump was sexually "compromised" during his visit to Moscow for the 2013 Miss Universe pageant. There's plenty of innuendo but, so far, no proof.

At the conclusion of Russian Roulette we're left wondering if Trump is a dupe or a doofus; is he denying that the Russians interfered in the election because he's following Putin's lead or because he's too vacuous? For whatever reason Trump is ignoring two existential threats to the United States: Russian cyber warfare and global climate change.

Even though the US intelligence community believes that the Russian interfered with the 2016 election, Trump discounts this. He continues to lobby for "normalization" of our relationship with Russia. (As this was being written, Trump fired Secretary of State Tillerson and National Security Adviser McMaster; both had advocated a hard line with Russia.)

Trump's associates met with Russians: Corn and Isikoff's new book provides ample evidence that members of the Trump campaign -- Carter Page, George Papadpoulos, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner, among others -- met with Russian operatives during the campaign. It appears that the Trump campaign was aware that the Russians had hacked the DNC and John Podesta's emails. Nonetheless, there's no evidence that the Trump campaign and the Russians planned joint operations; for example, that the Trump campaign asked the Russian operatives to disrupt voter turnout in Wisconsin. (There's nothing about the Trump campaign that's comparable to the purported link between the Russians and the NRA: the FBI is investigating allegations that Alexander Torshin, an official at the Central Bank of the Russia and life member of the NRA, funneled money through the gun lobby group to the Trump campaign.)

The Obama Administration was too soft with Russia: Russian Roulette makes it clear that the Obama Administration was informed that the Russians were interfering with the 2016 election. In hindsight it's clear that the Obama Administration was way too soft with the Russians. (At the last minute, when they wanted to go public with what they knew about the Russian interference with the election, the Obama Administration was thwarted by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.)

Summary: For the moment, David Corn and Michael Isikoff's new book, "Russian Roulette," is the preeminent source for information about how Russia interfered in the 2016 election. Bottom line: we're at war with Russia and Donald Trump isn't doing anything about it.

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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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